The Good Old Ways

Take a moment to read Ecclesiastes 11:7-12:8 in your Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.

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Image from: https://www.slideshare.net/Louendi/old-age-sticks-and-modernism-2

Classic One-Liners About Age

* Regular naps prevent old age, especially if you take them while driving. Author Unknown

* I’ve learned that life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer it gets to the end, the faster it goes. Andy Rooney

* When you are dissatisfied and would like to go back to youth, think of algebra. Will Rogers

* I’m at an age when my back goes out more than I do.

* Whatever you may look like, marry a man your own age — as your beauty fades, so will his eyesight. Phyllis Diller
* Bottom of Form

He’s so old that when he orders a three-minute egg, they ask for the money up front.

* When I was a boy the Dead Sea was only sick. George Burns

* You can live to be a hundred if you give up all the things that make you want to live to be a hundred.

* It’s not that I’m afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens. Woody Allen

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-blumenthal/aging-comedy_b_1128087.html

This morning I want to draw particular attention to our summary statement:

God gives joys and trials at every stage of life.

          The paradoxical thing about that statement is that while it true that joy is a gift, it is also a pursuit.  This is what the Preacher of Ecclesiastes wants us to understand.  It’s not enough to wait around for joy to fall on you, each of us is to pursue the things that are God-given sources of joy.  Effort and intention are necessary for experiences of joy.

We need to also acknowledge the other half of that sentence.  Trials are also gifts from God.  They hurt in varying degrees, but are also rich resources, deep wells of experience that train us much better than joyous experiences do.  Trials help us mature graciously.  We’re not to simply grow old, but our aim is to grow in our spiritual maturity as we age.  Age and maturity aren’t necessarily the same thing.

To help in that line, I want us to take a look at a passage from the OT book of Ecclesiastes.  The author of this book identifies himself only as “the Preacher,” so that is how we will refer to him.  Let’s look together at the Preacher’s comments on aging and see if our thesis holds true.

  1. Let all ages enjoy life (11:7-8).

Given the cloudy, wet weather we’ve endured lately, we can appreciate the statement in v. 7; LIGHT IS SWEET.  It is true of all people – to one degree or another – we need sunlight.  Extensive deprivation causes low energy, depression, etc.  The phrase IT PLEASES THE EYES TO SEE THE SUN is a description of human nature, as is the majority of this passage.

LIGHT is a metaphor of youth and the joys the young can enjoy more fully than the aged; it is SWEET.  LIGHT also stands in contrast with the DAYS OF DARKNESS in verse eight.

The LIGHT-DARKNESS contrast is also a symbol of how human life can progress.  The Preacher looks at youth (the LIGHT years) from a wistful perspective and here catalogs all that age has taken from him in the “dark” years.

The point/counterpoint of LIGHT and DARKNESS reminds us to be temperate; to not be too attached to either the joyous or sorrowful moments.  We need to avoid being defined by our best days or our worst ones.

Verse eight brings a mix of good and bad news, mostly bad.  That’s how Ecclesiastes often seems to us; a surplus of bad news.

The good news is that all ages are called to joy.  However long life lasts, make your days a pursuit of joy even as you overcome trials.

The bad news is that we experience DAYS OF DARKNESS.  To REMEMBER this fact is to keep our perspective in balance.  The pursuit of joy is not to consume every conscious thought, nor is it supposed to take us in the paths of evil.  The Preacher warns us there will be MANY DAYS OF DARKNESS.  This is realism, not pessimism, though the Preacher goes back and forth across that line throughout this book.

  1. Let the young be happy but mindful that life ends with JUDGMENT (11:9-10; 12:1).

The Preacher gave five reasons to go ahead and enjoy our youth.  These are not a license to do sinful or stupid things, but a recognition that it is wise to store up a trove of joy in your heart and memory, especially while you are young.  These memories will help you get through DARK days.

The first four reasons are quite obvious and need no commentary:

BE HAPPY.

LET YOUR HEART GIVE YOU JOY.

FOLLOW THE WAYS OF YOUR HEART.

BANISH ANXIETY FROM YOUR HEART.

The fifth, however, requires a little explanation.  CAST OFF THE TROUBLES OF YOUR BODY means to not allow any weakness of body to inhibit the flight of your spirit and mind.  Be ambitious in ways that go around your physical limitations.

The Preacher listed three things to keep in mind during good times.  The first is to remember GOD WILL BRING YOU TO JUDGMENT (3:17; 9:1; 11:9; 12:14). Choices always have consequences.

On one hand, consequences are one of the primary means for parents to train children and our heavenly Father to train all of us.  The person who remembers this will avoid sinful behavior.  On the other hand, it is a virtue to seek joy.  A 3rd century rabbi named Rab commented, “Man will have to give account for all that he saw and did not enjoy.”  It is a sin to ignore God’s blessings.  What’s called for here is a balanced perspective, one that tempers both joy and sorrow.

The second is to realize YOUTH & VIGOR ARE MEANINGLESS. Young people can feel “10’ tall & bulletproof,” but life has a habit of disabusing us of such illusions.  The optimism and vitality of youth do not, by themselves, create anything of eternal value.

The third is to REMEMBER YOUR CREATOR.  Be appropriately grateful for your life and don’t abuse it or give it up.

In this passage there are three times (11:8+10; 12:8) the Preacher reminds us the things of the world are MEANINGLESS.  We know how that word feels, we also need to know what it meant.  In Ecclesiastes, MEANINGLESS means “a fleeting breath.”  It is also translated as “vanity” because it is temporary, not eternal.  It is subject to frustration because it is worldly, not heavenly.

The Preacher used the word repeatedly.  It was his verdict on the things of this life; the sum of his experiences and the conclusion of his thinking.  In chapter twelve, the Preacher examines how the physical and mental limitations sometimes imposed by age can frustrate us.  Better to make all the progress in spirituality we can before the limitations of advanced age make it harder.

  1. Let the aged be remembered (12:1-8).

Old age is a serious subject, referred to here as THE DAYS OF TROUBLE.  Even so, the Preacher approaches it with a sense of humor that is expressed in eleven clever metaphors of troubles that are typical to the aged.  The preface to the word pictures is a statement that sums up our feelings about the DAYS OF DARKNESS: “I FIND NO PLEASURE IN THEM.”  There are a number of different ways to interpret these word pictures; what I offer are examples; they’re not being offered as exclusive definitions.  One other caveat: not all aged persons experience all these symptoms and modern medicine has invented several ways to relieve these typical limitations brought on by aging.

One = SUN, LIGHT, MOON, STARS GO DARK, CLOUDS RETURN AFTER THE RAIN (2) and LOOKING THROUGH THE WINDOWS GROWS DIM (3) refer to a gradual loss of vision.  Or they may refer to the passing of the seasons and how the weather becomes progressively more difficult to live with: spring is easy, winter hard.

Two = THE KEEPERS OF THE HOUSE (legs) TREMBLE and STRONG MEN (arms) STOOP (3) remind us of how weak limbs and stooping are stereotypes of aging.

Three = GRINDERS CEASE BECAUSE THEY ARE FEW (3) references loss of teeth.  Oy, am I there!  My dentist wants me to put all my money where my mouth is!

Four = DOORS TO THE STREET ARE CLOSED (4) notes how some old folks come to prefer solitude to socializing; the repeated loss of family and friends can have that effect on a person.  Also, diminished senses of sight and hearing can leave a person feeling left out of conversations and understandably less interested in being among people, especially large groups of them.

Five = THE SOUND OF GRINDING FADES AND SONGS GROW FAINT (4) describe a gradual loss of hearing.

Six = MEN RISE AT THE SOUND OF BIRDS (4) is akin to our phrase “up with t chickens,” which is a vestigial habit of rising early, being trained to rise at a certain hour all our working years.  This may also imply a problem with insomnia, more common among the aged than the young.

Seven = AFRAID OF HEIGHTS AND DANGERS IN THE STREETS (5) looks to the added intensity of fear among the aged.  Of course, people of all ages feel anxiety but it more often comes with advancing age because repeated experiences of trials can make us feel wary.  Worse, a symptom of dementia and other mental illness is unfounded fears.

Eight = THE ALMOND TREE BLOSSOMS (5) are white, like an aged person’s hair.  “Snow on the roof” is a modern expression observing the same phenomena in a polite expression.

Nine = THE GRASSHOPPER DRAGS HIMSELF ALONG (5).  We’ve all seen how bugs get sluggish when the weather turns cold.  We’ve also seen how arthritis and other illnesses typical to the aged can slow folks down.

Ten = DESIRE IS NO LONGER STIRRED (5) at varying ages, libido is trumped by the need/desire for a good night’s sleep.  More broadly, the passions of youth typically give way to a more deliberate and temperate emotional nature as we mature.

Eleven = MAN GOES TO HIS ETERNAL HOME AND MOURNERS GO ABOUT THE STREETS (5) refers to the end of life.  The culture of the day required wailing and expressions of grief most of us would consider extreme.  In fact, by Jesus’ time, people would earn a living as professional mourners, performing these dramatic acts of mourning so the busy family members could get on with their daily routines!

In light of the DAYS OF DARKNESS, the young are to REMEMBER the aged.  “Remembering” means to attend to the aged and honor them in their troubles.  The young are to REMEMBER HIM (the aged) BEFORE death occurs, for death is inevitable and irreversible. We are given six word pictures of death here.

One, THE SLIVER CORD IS SEVERED.  This CORD held up an oil lamp.  Once severed, the lamp would crash to the floor and break.

Two, THE GOLDEN BOWL IS SHATTERED; a broken lamp will no longer give light to the room.

Three, THE PITCHER IS SHATTERED.  A broken pitcher is of no use in carrying water.

Four, THE WHEEL IS BROKEN.  If the pulley used to draw water from the well breaks, getting water has become much more difficult.

Five, THE DUST RETURNS TO THE GROUND refers to the creation of Adam from dust and to the decomposition of a body when buried (3:18-21).

Six, THE SPIRIT RETURNS TO GOD reminds us that life itself is a gift from God.  God alone determines birth and death; all life is His to command.  This is more reason to keep our focus on Him.

As serious as they are, the trials of the aged are also MEANINGLESS.  That is, they are temporary.  The only parts of life that endure are the maturity created in the person and the good works we do.

When reading Ecclesiastes, we need to keep in mind that it belongs to a kind of revelation called “wisdom literature.”  The writer did not claim to be a prophet, but used reasoning to persuade his reader to a godly perspective.  He did not wield the authority of “thus says the LORD,” but instead asks, “What do you think about this?”

We should also remember that all parts of Scripture interpret one another.  No single verse or section stands alone to support doctrine.  Instead, our most central beliefs are woven together from the strands of many scriptures.

All that to say this: don’t neglect reading Ecclesiastes because it seems negative.  The Preacher’s observations are included in the Bible to help us form a rational basis for our faith and to weave together personal experience and divine revelation.

When you come down to it, this passage is a matter of time.  In the life span of a human being, we reach the height of our power when ability is at its peak, matched by the breadth of opportunity.

In this case, the Preacher’s observations lend support to our belief that God gives joys and trials at every stage of life.  If we believe God is in charge, then we must accept this essential truth.  The alternatives are to blame the devil for all trials (not true), or to blame randomness (not true).

With God in charge, every experience has some meaning that transcends the moment and offers us at least one lesson to be learned for the deepening of our maturity.  When we believe God is in charge, we understand that everything He does is motivated by love and that it will all work out for good.  If we believe anything else, then the situation is really more hopeless than anything the Preacher described in Ecclesiastes.  Faith in God is the only choice that offers hope for the future and gives meaning to our past and present.

What’s God Done for You Lately?

Please take a moment to read Ephesians 1:1-14 in your favorite Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.

God has done everything for us to inherit eternal life in heaven and abundant life on Earth.

I’d like you to take the message title as a question to you personally.  Ask yourself, “What has God done for me lately?”  How quickly can you come up with an answer?  When good things happen to you, do you tend to think of yourself as “lucky” or would you say you are “blessed?”  The difference between those two words is essential because “luck” is a concept associated with a God-less world view.  To be “blessed” is to have faith and acknowledge that God is in charge.  There is no such thing as luck.

Rev. Michael Cartwright posed this question and here’s how he answered it: “I will mention a few blessings from the last few days:

(May 11, 2007) One of the Managers for the Target stores in Southern California named Jeremy just gave me a free brand new Casio G Shock wrist watch. I did nothing but bring my old Casio watch in to get a new battery and the lady did not know how to put it back together. God blessed me with a new watch.

The same day I went to pick up a mechanic named Larry to work on a car that belonged to my employer named Bob, I explained to him about my Internet Ministry and how I am going to pick up a computer router over the weekend so that I can have high bandwidth. Larry reached over behind a table and under a pile of stuff he handed me a free router.

May 12, 2007, an air conditioner technician named Clarence came over to my home and he handed me a reasonable bill for $150.00 for parts and labor which I paid in cash. We were talking about our faith and what a blessing we are to each other and he gave me back $50.00.

(May 14, 2007) As I stepped out of my vehicle this evening, I was just outside of my home thanking my next door neighbor who lives on the left side of my home for helping me with his remote control to open the gate since my remote control needed batteries.

At the same time my other next door neighbor Walter who lives on the right side of my home who has a wonderful wife and family approached me and asked me to not go anywhere as he went back into his garage. He came right back out and handed me a $20.00 bill and told me that he found it in my front yard yesterday and wanted to give it to me.”

How would you like to have a week like that?  Here’s how Rev. Cartwright summed it up: “To some people these may not seem to be big blessings, but to me and God every blessing is a big deal because it shows how God keeps His promises to bless you in everything.”

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I once listened to a lengthy testimony from a guy who was convinced God helped him find morel mushrooms, leading him step by step through the woods.  The testimony was rather like following a treasure map!  These men are to be commended for the attitude of gratitude they are showing, but I wonder about one thing: do they see the big picture too?

I wonder if we have faith enough to see God at work in the more important matters of eternal life?  Do we have faith to see God is in charge when disease strikes, when we’re flat broke, when we feel lonely, when adversities pile up?  Do we sense God’s leading in all these circumstances of life?

Paul wrote to the believers in Ephesus, a city where he’d made new disciples and founded churches.  He wrote to encourage them that God is in charge of all life’s events, ups and downs included.  He wanted them to have faith to see that God’s eye is on both the details and the big picture; that He is actively working to bring all of it into conformity with His master plan for humanity.

CONTEXT: Ephesians 1:1+2 sets the stage for what is to come in the letter.  We can note some themes in the first two verses:

One, Paul established his authority to write them not on his having founded the church, but on a higher level: the commission of CHRIST JESUS BY THE WILL OF GOD.

Two, Paul identified his target audience: TO THE SAINTS IN EPHESUS, THE FAITHFUL IN CHRIST JESUS.  This looks like two ways of saying the same thing, but I take it to be a two-fold greeting.  It’s as if Paul wrote, “To the church in Ephesus and believers in the Ephesus metro area.”

The city of Ephesus was an important city in the eastern part of the Roman Empire.  It was a junction for land and sea trade routes for what we call Asia Minor, in modern Turkey.

God’s strategy in spreading the Church in Asia Minor was to start at Ephesus and fan out to other cities along the roads built by local governors to improve trade and impress their Roman rulers.

Three; using his typical greeting of GRACE and PEACE, Paul set forth two of the major themes of the letter.  He used the word GRACE 95 times in his letters, twelve of them in Ephesians.  PEACE is one of the great blessings of faith; Paul used the word eight times in Ephesians.

Paul wrote this letter six or seven years after he last visited the city.  In this letter he is doing everything he can to reassure the former pagans that their fate is not determined by the impersonal, unfeeling stars or any whimsy of false gods.  Instead, their hope is safe in the hands of the one true God.

  1. God has blessed you with every blessing (3).

In the Jewish culture of that time, the matter of blessing someone was very important.  A blessing directed to God was called a berakah.  Paul’s blessing of God is unusually long – it was written as one sentence 202 words long!  In it, He blesses the Lord for the way He’s blessed us with a plan of salvation.  He began with two general statements:

First, God has BLESSED US IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS.  Rather than referring to a place you can find on a map, Paul’s reference to HEAVENLY REALMS is similar to Jesus’ use of the phrase, Kingdom of God.  It is more a state of being and a sphere of authority than a place.

Two, God has BLESSED us WITH EVERY SPIRITUAL BLESSING.  Some may prefer earthly kinds of blessings, but the best things in life are not discerned by the five senses.

  1. God chose you (4 + 11).

He CHOSE you early – BEFORE THE CREATION OF THE WORLD.  God chooses individuals to do particular parts of His plan.  People like Abraham, Moses, David, Paul, and Peter are examples of God’s choosing.  This term is also used in a broader sense, that God chose the nation of Israel and the Church to be His covenant partners.  The fact that He made His choices BEFORE T CREATION OF THE WORLD indicates that God – in His wisdom and power – formed a plan of salvation long before it was needed!

He CHOSE you for a reason – TO BE HOLY AND BLAMELESS IN HIS SIGHT.  To be chosen is an undeserved honor.  (As we will see, the word GRACE figures prominently in this passage and in the letter overall.)  God has His reasons for choosing some people, but none of them have to do with our worthiness or His need: neither of those things really exists.

Instead, God chooses us in order that we might become HOLY and BLAMELESS. (See also 5:27.)  God, by calling us into service, makes us HOLY.  The word HOLY means set apart from everyday, worldly, and especially from sinful purposes to be used by God.  God, by forgiving our sins, makes BLAMELESS.  This is a moral perfection made possible by the complete forgiveness.  God does these things because He is creating for Himself a people all His own.  He is qualifying us to be part of His Church.

The key phrase is IN HIS SIGHT.  No matter how you or I may feel about ourselves; no matter what lies the devil may feed us to discourage us into thinking we are unholy and full of blame, what’s true in the mind of God is absolutely true.  You can rely on that!

The word CHOSEN in v. 11 can also be translated as “made heirs,” referring to our adoption into the divine family.  More on that next.

  1. God predestined you (4-6 + 11).

Because He loves you, God PREDESTINED you to be adopted into His family.  The word PREDESTINED is used to explain how God CHOSE us even before the world was created.  He set our destiny before the events that brought us into being!  PREDESTINED is a popular word among theologians, but occurs only six times in the Bible (see Romans 8:29-30 and 1 Corinthians 2:7).  For the benefit of theological readers, let me offer this statement: in thinking about how God saves us, we can emphasize free will and suffer the loss of eternal security or emphasize sovereignty and enjoy the security of eternal life based on grace, not works.

Adoption into God’s family is one of Paul’s favorite metaphors for salvation, which is a little surprising.  Adoption was a common custom in Greek and Roman law, but there are no laws or teaching regarding it in the Old Testament, only a passing mention in Esther 2:15.  His use of this metaphor says something positive about Paul’s use of the Gentile culture to communicate the Gospel.

This is an image of affection and deep relationship that illustrates God’s choosing.  After all, adopted children are chosen, and then welcomed into the family.

This is also a forward-looking image because according to Roman & Greek law, adopted sons become legal HEIRS of the father (v. 11).  This is meant to reassure us that we have a future and it is a very good one.

Your predestination gives Him PLEASURE because it fulfills His WILL and because He loves you.  That’s a feeling we can all understand: how it pleases us when things go acc. to plan.  Although in God’s case, I suspect it is a PLEASURE that is less self-centered.  Because He loves us, God is pleased to think about us as spending eternity with Him.

As an aside, it bothers me when we downgrade the joy that the Bible says is supposed to accompany a genuine faith.  Paul teaches that the whole process is effused with joy: he wrote that God took PLEASURE in choosing us and we enjoy the blessings His choosing imparts to us.

He predestined you by means of HIS GLORIOUS GRACE, which He FREELY gave us by means of Jesus (the ONE HE LOVES).  What this implies about Jesus is that He was present with God the Father before creation and that He was a party to our being chosen.  Jesus is God the Son.

GRACE is undeserved favor.  It is God giving us what we don’t deserve, because death is the only outcome sinners deserve.  The word FREELY helps us under-stand the word GRACE.  There is no way we can earn God’s choosing us.  We don’t deserve to be part of the family, but we are.  God’s GRACE is GLORIOUS in the sense that it directs our attention to God.  As the highest good, God deserves our attention and has earned our PRAISE.  All this was according to God’s PLAN, the one that works all things to conform to His WILL.

  1. God redeemed you (7-8, 14).

God accomplished redemption through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross: His shed BLOOD.  In a culture where slavery was widely practiced, REDEMPTION is a commonly understood term.  In our culture, less so.

A person became a slave if they were captured during a war, or more commonly, as an item to be sold to pay off one’s debts.  (Instead of holding a rummage sale or going to a pawn shop, an indebted person avoided prison by selling one’s self or children into slavery.)  Death brought an end to one’s servitude, but it could be accomplished sooner by financial means.  If someone paid off the debt, the slave was set free.  That payment is the “redemption price.”

The Bible lists several “owners” to which we were in slavery:

The devil.

Our own sin nature and human nature hold us in bondage to sin.

The “darkness” of sin and willful ignorance of God.

God redeemed us from these three “masters” through the willing sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.  Jesus paid the price for our lives by giving His own.  He is our saving substitute, sacrificing Himself that we might live.  Thanks to Him, we do not have to face God’s wrath onf Judgment Day.

This redemption was an act of GRACE.  It is so good, His salvation is “rich.”  There is nothing lacking in God’s GRACE.  He is completely able to save.  You can trust God’s power.  It is so generous, God LAVISHED it on us.  God is not stingy with His grace, He loves to a degree beyond our ability to understand.  You can trust God’s generous character.  God’s GRACE is evidence of His WISDOM AND UNDERSTANDING and/or part of GRACE is bestowing WISDOM and UNDERSTANDING on us.  In either case, GRACE is not at all like our overly-permissive, child-centered parenting; it produces change and growth.  You can trust God to challenge you to mature as He provides all you need to achieve it.

  1. God revealed His plan to you (9-11).

The MYSTERY is revealed; it was there all the time.  The phrase “hidden in plain sight” comes to mind.  From before creation on to our own time, God is graciously making His will known to His people.  One means of His self-revelation is the Bible.  We understand that the Bible is God’s “progressive revelation;” that means that God did not reveal all of His plan to save humanity in the first chapters of Genesis.  As time progressed and throughout the pages of the Bible, more of his plan was revealed.  Paul understood Jesus Christ as being the important piece to the puzzle, the key to understanding the Old Testament and preparing for the future.

Here’s that word PLEASURE again (vs. 5+9).  This word measures the joy God has in loving and saving people.

We are informed again, God the Father accomplished His will through God the Son. Paul clarified this in three verses.

In verse seven, the phrase THROUGH HIS BLOOD refers to the sacrifice, the physical means that makes salvation, the fulfillment of God’s plan, possible.  In verse nine, the phrase WHICH HE PURPOSED IN CHRIST identifies Jesus as the “linchpin” or “keystone” of God the Father’s redemptive plan. To emphasize this point, Paul used three different words which can be translated as PLAN.

In verse ten, the phrase TO BRING ALL THINGS…UNDER ONE HEAD, EVEN CHRIST looks ahead to the Second Coming, the event that will bring history to a close and complete the plan of God.  On that day, all rebellion and sin will come to an end, this current version of reality being replaced.  The paradise lost in the Garden of Eden will be regained and established for all eternity.

That is such a big promise, a universe-sized vision, that it can be difficult to believe.  But this passage is about HOPE (12) and about describing all that God has done for us.  We are being informed that God’s plan looks forward to complete fulfillment; we live in a time when we are God’s partners in bringing it to pass.

Verse eleven seems to serve as a restatement of Paul’s points in this section; here he repeats vs. 4-6+10, emphasizing that all these promises are what God intended to do all along, even before creation (4).  Notice the word EVERYTHING.  Our hope is that all things will be made new in Jesus Christ.

  1. God sealed His promises with the Holy Spirit (11-14).

God’s plan fulfills the promises He made to His people Israel, to the Jews: WE WHO WERE THE FIRST TO HOPE IN CHRIST (12).  Here Paul simply notes the historical events coming to pass in his own lifetime: Jesus was a Jew and considered His mission to be to His own people.  When the Church was formed, it was primarily made up of Jewish people, centered in Jerusalem, and continued to support temple worship and other Jewish traditions.

However, God’s plan always included the non-Jews (Gentiles); He always intended to save all people: AND YOU ALSO WERE INCLUDED IN CHRIST (13).  The means of the Gentiles’ inclusion: YOU HEARD THE WORD OF TRUTH and BELIEVED.

God the Father’s plan features the God the Holy Spirit (14).  The HOLY SPIRIT is a SEAL.  In Paul’s world, a SEAL was a mark of ownership.  Seals were often made of stone or precious metal that had some kind of image engraved in them.  When pressed in hot wax, the seal left an impression that identified the owner.  In our time, a brand on cattle, a trademark, copyright, signature, or fingerprint are ways we record identity and/or ownership.  When we truly believe, the Holy Spirit is given to us and His presence is indicated by Spiritual Gifts and Fruits of the Spirit, along with a change of character.  This is God the Father’s SEAL on us.

The HOLY SPIRIT is a DEPOSIT, GUARANTEEING OUR INHERITANCE.  Think of a “downpayment” or “earnest money” in modern financial transactions.  These are ways of validating a commitment to keep a promise.

Think of it!  God has no need to make a DEPOSIT; by faith we should take Him at His word.  And yet, He offers part of Himself; God the Holy Spirit as a guarantee that all He has promised will come to pass.  This also means God has not left us alone to sweat out the time between promise and fulfillment; He is with us.

The ultimate end of all of this is THE PRAISE OF [God’s] GLORY (v. 14; also vs. 6+12).  God’s GLORY is another way of referring to His presence among His people.  When the Bible talks about giving GLORY TO GOD, it means making Him known, sensing His presence, and responding to Him appropriately.

In the Bible, God’s presence is referred to in various ways:

As THUNDER (Psalms 29:3; 33:22).

As bright radiance (Ezekiel 1:28).

As a bright cloud (Exodus 40:34-35).

As unapproachable and invisible LIGHT (1 Timothy 6:16).

To PRAISE God is to sense His presence, recognize Him for who He is, and to make Him known to others.  It is worship.

Let’s review the four truths we’ve learned:

One, God is in charge; His plan is unfolding as He directs and will one day result in the salvation of all creation.

Two, God is at work; His plan was set into motion even before the world was created.  He took full inititiative and chose us for salvation.

Three, God will succeed; His plan to restore the paradise lost in the Garden of Eden will completely come to pass, with universal effect.

Four, Jesus Christ is God.  God the Son helped God the Father formulate the plan and is central in its success.  God the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity is the worldly evidence that identifies those whom God has chosen and encourage them to trust that all promises will be kept.

“The story is told of Dr. Christianson, Professor of Religion at a small college in the western United States. Dr. Christianson taught the required course in Christianity.

“He found that most of his students looked upon the course as nothing but required drudgery.  Despite his best efforts, most students refused to take Christianity seriously.

“One year, Dr. Christianson made a special arrangement with a popular student named Steve who was studying with the intent of going on to seminary for the ministry.  When class started, the professor pulled out a big box of donuts: the extra fancy big kind, with cream centers and frosting swirls. Everyone was pretty excited it because was Friday, the last class of the day, and they were going to get some delicious donuts.

“Dr. Christianson went to the first girl in the first row and asked, ‘Cynthia, do you want to have one of these donuts?’

“Cynthia said, “Yes.”

“Dr. Christianson then turned to Steve and asked, ‘Steve, would you do ten push-ups so that Cynthia can have a donut?’

“’Sure.’ Steve jumped down from his desk to do a quick ten. Dr. Christianson put a donut on Cynthia’s desk.

“Dr. Christianson then went to Joe, the next person, and asked, ‘Joe, do you want a donut?’

“Joe said, ‘Yes.’ Dr. Christianson asked, “Steve would you do ten push-ups so Joe can have a donut?”

“Steve did ten push-ups, Joe got a donut. And so it went, down the first aisle, Steve did ten pushups for every person before they got their donut.

“Walking down the second aisle, Dr. Christianson came to Scott, who wanted a donut, but asked, ‘Can I do my own pushups?’

“Dr. Christianson said, ‘No, Steve has to do them.’

“Scott said, ‘Well, I don’t want one then.’

“Dr. Christianson shrugged and then turned to Steve and asked, ‘Steve, would you do ten pushups so Scott can have a donut he doesn’t want?’

“With perfect obedience Steve started to do ten pushups.

“Scott said, ‘Hey! I said I didn’t want one!’

“Dr. Christianson said, ‘Look!, this is my classroom, my class, my desks, and these are my donuts. Just leave it on the desk if you don’t want it.’ And he put a donut on Scott’s desk.

“Steve had begun to slow down and the students were beginning to get a little angry.

“Dr. Christianson asked Jenny, ‘Jenny, do you want a donut?’

“Sternly, Jenny said, ‘No.’

“Then Dr. Christianson asked Steve, ‘Steve, would you do ten more push-ups so Jenny can have a donut that she doesn’t want?’

Steve did ten….Jenny got a donut.

“A growing sense of uneasiness filled the room. The students were beginning to say “No” and there were a lot of uneaten donuts on the desks.

“As Dr. Christianson finished the fourth row, Steve’s arms were shaking with each push-up, sweat was profusely dropping off of his face.  There was no sound except his heavy breathing and there was not a dry eye in the room.

At last, the professor explained, “’When I decided to have a party this last day of class, I looked at my grade book. Steve here is the only student with a perfect grade. Everyone else has failed a test, skipped class, or offered me inferior work. Steve told me that in football practice, when a player messes up he must do push-ups. I told Steve that none of you could come to my party unless he paid the price by doing your push ups. He and I made a deal for your sakes.’

“’And so it was, that our Savior, Jesus Christ, on the cross, plead to the Father, ‘into thy hands I commend my spirit.’ With the understanding that He had done everything that was required of Him, He yielded up His life. And like some of those in this room, many of us leave His gift on the desk, uneaten.’

“’My wish is that you might understand and fully comprehend all the riches of grace and mercy that have been given to you through the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Wouldn’t you be foolish and ungrateful to leave it lying on the desk?’”

<http://www.sermonillustrationlibrary.org/illustration52&gt;

 

RESOURCE:

Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Clinton E. Arnold

Samson’s Mistaken Marriage

Please read Judges 14 in your Bible.  For myself, I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

Our first look at the adult Samson is in Judges 14, where Samson makes a big mistake in marriage, but God use it to get him busy about soldiering the people of Israel out from under the Philistine boot.  While the account is deadly serious, it has some comedic elements and therefore reminds one of marriage in general.  Marriage is a deep well from which those of us who have a sense of humor can draw.  In the spirit of the passage, let me offer a couple humorous takes on marriage.

The speaker at a women’s club was lecturing on the subject of marriage.  Her point was that women are to be partners with their husbands, not to mother them.  To reinforce this point, she excitedly asked the audience of women, “How many of you want to mother your husband?”

Only one woman raised her hand.  The speaker was shocked.  This had never happened before, in all the times she had given this speech.  She asked, “Do you really want to mother your husband?”

“Mother?” the woman echoed.  “I thought you said smother!”

Now, in the interest of fairness, I offer this view from the other side of aisle.

A guy was out for a walk when he saw a guy walking a dog.  The pooch was an impressive specimen of a German Shepherd.  “Nice dog!” he said.

“I got this dog for my wife,” he replied.

The man sighed.  “Sure wish I could make a trade like that.”

In today’s passage we’ll see Samson, the biblical macho man, making a number of mistakes, sinning against God.  But the big mistake, the one that gets to the heart of the matter, is Samson’s mistaken marriage.

Samson proves God can accomplish His will with our help or in spite of our helping ourselves.

  1. Samson Sin #1 = Marrying a Pagan Woman.

This was a culture of arranged marriages.  That’s why, in spite of being the strongest man in history, Samson still asked his father to arrange for him to marry her because that’s the way those folks got married (1+2).

This was “love at first sight” or “lust at first sight,” or something equally unreliable.  Samson made this decision based only on what he’d SEEN.  He doesn’t even meet or talk to this woman until v. 7, after the marriage had been arranged!

Mr. & Mrs. M. tried to get Samson to do right; they may be a little child-centered, but are otherwise not at fault.  What was the right thing to do? As we read in Deuteronomy 7:1-6, God had expressly forbidden marriage between His people and pagans.  He knew it would lead to divided loyalties and then idolatry.  Accordingly, Samson’s parents objected to his intended being an UNCIRCUMCISED PHILISTINE (3).  Samson’s folks used that phrase in the usual way – as an insult.  You can understand their resentment, as at this time the Philistines WERE RULING OVER ISRAEL (4), and had been for forty years (13:1).

Naturally, they preferred a nice local girl.  The word RELATIVES refers to the tribe of Dan.  (No jokes about inbreeding, please.)  ALL OUR PEOPLE refers to the nation of Israel.  You can almost hear a Jewish mother say, “Can’t you find a good JEWISH girl?”

Here’s the important verse of the passage, the part that proves God can do His will with or without our cooperation.  Verse four explains God’s plan was to force a confrontation between Samson and the Philistines and a feud over a beautiful woman is a time-honored way to start a fight.

Samson was selfish and stubborn.  Here again with the “love at first sight” thing; the NIV translates v. 3 to say, “SHE’S THE RIGHT ONE FOR ME.”  It literally means, “She is right in my eyes.”  This is Samson being selfish and undisciplined, disobedient to the law of God.

This attitude characterized the Israelites at this time.  As 17:6 & 21:25 elaborate, IN THE DAYS ISRAEL HAD NO KING EVERYONE DID AS HE SAW FIT.   This sounds very close to the condition of the whole human race before God destroyed them with the flood: Genesis 6:5 states, EVERY INCLINATION OF THE THOUGHTS OF THE HUMAN HEART WAS ONLY EVIL ALL THE TIME.

  1. Samson Sin #2 = Breaking t Nazirite Rules.

REMINDER = in looking at chapter 13, we learned that to be a Nazirite was to take on an additional set of rules in order to more fully dedicate one’s self to God.  Samson was supposed to follow these rules his entire life.  It is implied that this special relationship with God was the source of his miraculous strength.

Rule #1 = abstain from all fruit of the grapevine.

Verse eight tells us Samson was in a vineyard alone.  “When mom’s away, the kids will play.”  Here, in one place, at one time, it looks like he broke TWO of the Nazirite rules.

To be fair, we have to note three things.  One, we’re just observing opportunity here.  Why had he chosen to go to the vineyard alone and to meet the future Mrs. Samson there beside?

Two, this was the site where he’d had a miraculous experience of the Holy Spirit and killed that lion (5-6).  Maybe he went there to see what was left of the lion.

Three, the text does not specifically say Samson ate any grapes.  BUT if he had, it was a violation of the Nazirite rules.

Rule #2 = avoid touching a dead body.

As he traveled with his parents from Zorah to Timnah, the family walked through a vineyard (5-6).   Timnah was a town situated in the same valley as Zorah.  But apparently they weren’t travelling close together, because suddenly, a YOUNG LION (sent by the Lord) decided he looked like lunch, charging and roaring at him.

Verse six is the second time we’ve read this about Samson = THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD CAME POWERFULLY ON him.  This empowerment went right to Samson’s muscles and enabled him to tear the lion apart as easily as one would tear apart a YOUNG GOAT.

It’s a miracle.  Super strength!  (See also 14:19, 15:14 and 16:28-29.)

Samson gave Mr. & Mrs. Manoah the “mushroom treatment,” he kept mum on the subject.  That will be an important point later in the story.  Somehow, Samson is the only one who knew about the lion attack.

SOME TIME LATER (8-9), Samson returned to the site of his victory.  It must’ve been quite a while later, because some bees had taken over the rotting remains of the YOUNG LION and established a colony there.  Without ANY sense of hygiene, Samson scoops out TWO hands full of the honey from the lion carcass.  GROSS!  Worse, he spreads his germs to his parents.  WHY would you eat honey off another person’s hands?!  Because he didn’t bother to tell them where it came from, I suppose.  To my way of thinking, the fact that Samson didn’t tell his parents where the honey came from implies that his visit to the vineyard included violation(s) of his Nazirite commitments.

Interestingly, a beehive in a carcass was a widely-believed thing in the ancient world.  The Egyptians related bees to their bull-god Apis.  The scientific name of the honeybee is Apis, an keeping bees is called “apiculture,” with beehives called “apiaries.”  Modern science shows that bees will make hives in empty spaces of all kinds.  A gutted rib cage would be just about ideal.

The Law of Moses (see Numbers 19:13) forbade touching a dead HUMAN body, declaring that person “unclean.” This is a lion’s corpse, not a human’s, so does this not count against Samson?  One part of the Nazirite vow (Numbers 6:6) forbid touching A DEAD BODY, not being specific about which kind.  So, to be fair, it’s iffy.  I mean, what Samson did was gross, but was it really a sin?

Rule #3 = Abstain from intoxicating drinks.

What can we prove here?  Verse ten says that they held a wedding feast, AS WAS CUSTOMARY FOR YOUNG MEN.  What happened at the FEAST?  We don’t know exactly, but the Hebrew word for FEAST is literally translated as “a drinking party.”  If this was anything like a “bachelor party” then what is CUSTOMARY in our culture is binge drinking and bad behavior.

If you import our culture’s practice of a bachelor party, that might not be an exact fit.  If we’ve learned anything about the Bible, we should learn that we do not live in the same culture.  Assume nothing.  Research everything.

So what can we take away from this chapter?  The marriage is the definitive sin, the rest is a little sketchy.  God used Samson’s sinful stubbornness to push him along a path of confrontation with the Philistines.

  1. Sam’s Sin #3 = Not Taking His Job Seriously.

The 30 companions with whom he feasted may’ve been spies.  You’ve got to wonder, did Samson think this through?  Let’s do it for him: You’re in enemy territory and the enemy  invites 30 local guys to your party; any chance at least one of them is reporting to the enemy king?

Verse eleven gives us a reason to think these 30 men were spies: WHEN THE PEOPLE [of Timnah] SAW HIM, THEY CHOSE THIRTY MEN TO BE HIS COMPANIONS.  They made these arrangements after the SAW Samson and decided he might just be a threat.  I’d guess Samson LOOKED like a mighty man.  He had the body of Arnold Schwarzenegger but the mind of Larry the Cable Guy.

My guess is that these 30 guys were the Philistine version of “protective custody,” there in case Samson wanted to make trouble.

The riddle (12-18) was a sign he wasn’t acting responsibly.  Instead, he was gambling and goofing around.  This does not seem very macho: the bet involved CLOTHES.  It’s like Samson is betting in order to get a closet full of tuxes.  Exchanging riddles was, in that culture, a typical activity.  People of that time enjoyed riddles as contests of wit or skill.

Samson shows off his cleverness with a cute rhyming couplet.  The riddle involves the honey he obtained from the lion’s carcass.  Since, as the text plainly shows us, only Samson knew this happened, the 30 groomsmen can’t begin to guess the answer, even over three days of guessing.

Desperate and about to lose the bet, the 30 feasters turn to their countrywoman.  Rather than appeal to her patriotism, they threaten to burn her and her dad down with their house (15).  Spies or not, they are not nice.

By their words in v. 15, we understand they suspected that the whole wedding thing was a ruse to trick them out of their wardrobes and they think Miss Philistine is in on the scam.  This riddle gaming thing was serious business and an unusual amount of cash.

Samson’s fiancé uses the stereotypical tricks of crying and nagging (16-17).  This is a preview of Samson’s affair with Delilah (16:1-22).  It’s amazing to think that God gave Samson this kind of warning and he STILL fell for Delilah.  Eventually, she wore him out with her tears and pleas, and he gave her the answer, which she then passed on to the 30 Philistine groomsmen.

These guys savored their victory in secret until the very last moment, when they declared the answer (18).  Samson’s retort is not at all nice, calling his betrothed a HEIFER!  As goofy as this situation seems to us, it was the means God used to provoke the first confrontation between Samson and the Philistines.

  1. Sam Sin #4 = Had a Quick & Violent Temper.

Samson killed and stole in order to pay his debt.  ASHKELON was one of the capital cities of Philistia, so Samson is striking right into the heart of the enemy.  Samson selected the 30 best-dressed men in Ashkelon, killed them, and stole their fine clothing, which he used to pay off his debt to his 30 gambling buddies.

Feeling betrayed by his fiancé, Samson was angry with her and effectively abandoned her, the woman he’d stubbornly insisted on having for his wife.  No doubt this was a problem: some practical-minded person said, “We’ve been having a wedding feat all week, it’d be a shame to waste it.  Somebody volunteer to marry this pretty little gal!”  This would also avoid disgracing the jilted bride.  As we will see in the next chapter, Samson was unaware of these arrangements.  Boy is he gonna be mad!

In Samson we have a guy with commitment issues: like that’s a new story!  This is the climax of the story of Samson; the remaining two chapters of how he took the fight to the enemy.  This chapter shows how God used Samson’s character flaws of impulsiveness, selfishness, and stubbornness to deliver His people.

Two things we can learn from Samson: one, life is much easier when we obey God.  If we follow His lead to do His will, we don’t have to end up defeated by our enemies.  Two, even people with the Holy Spirit do not have other-worldly perfection.  Even with the Spirit’s help, we still struggle against our character flaws and temptations to sin.

This chapter is more about God than Samson.  God’s will is going to be done, whether we cooperate with it or not.  Samson illustrates how our stubbornness and defiance does NOT deter the fulfillment of the will of God in that person’s life.